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The Love for Letters

“In an exclusive interview we talked to Tanya about the motivation behind her Typewalks, her process and the challenges that typography faces as a profession in contemporary India. “

- Editor

Tanya George, Type Designer & Typographer

In your words, especially for your readers, what is typography? What is the true

purpose of good typography?

Typography is the arrangement of letterforms to communicate information. Good typography does that well. It takes into account who will be reading the text, the medium it will appear on printed or digital, size it will appear on and the tone it is trying to communicate. Balancing all those parameters is an art and science and helps design better reading experiences. And its ubiquitous, so much so that one tends to realise it only when its poor typography. Only when you canʼt find a shop easily because the signage is too tiny, or reading a book or article is difficult because the typeface to expressive or the layout all over the place does tend to appreciate it most.

How did typography happen to you? Were you always fascinated with the idea of it?

How did you get started?

Typography “happened to me” very gradually. I was always fascinated with expressive text. As a school kid decorating the class board with “quote of the day”. Making posters and doodling song lyrics on margins and the last page of text book that would be filled with texts in different styles. The “logo” I use today is something I first sketched on my notebook in the 8th standard while I was supposed to be doing homework. Back then I didnʼt know there was a name for it. Formally, I got introduced to the idea when I was in college and they(JJ Institute of Applied Arts) had an elective called “Calligraphy, Typography and lettering” which is what I specialised in during by undergraduate studies. From then on, itʼs been a set of conscious decisions to do anything related to letterforms including an M.A. in typeface design.

Tell us more about your Typewalks. What is the motivation behind them? Are they an attempt to also create a congregation of sorts to exchange ideas? Why do we need

more typographers?

Technically, Typewalk are something I have been doing for over 10 years. Wherever I was “I loved looking at signages and letterforms that appear in public. Id think about the design decisions made by whoever designed it. There are limitations in terms of size and materiel that effect those signs, As well as the preference of the owner of the establishment. These are things Ive faced as a graphic designer and I am always curious how others deal with it. Now, itʼs been a little over a year that I have been doing them to an audience. The idea of public speaking is very scary but Ive realised its easier when I am speaking about something I love. I still have to research and practice a lot before I do it but its less scary.

Typewalks have been a great way to introduce a topic like typography which can be fairly technical to a diverse audience. There are actual examples that I get to talk the participants through. One of the things my walks focus on is the multilingual typographic landscape. We have signages in so many scripts for just a two hour walk. I try and explain how typography is not just for the English language and highlight the struggles of indigenous scripts due of the lack of attention while designing for/with them.

Especially because of this, it is extremely important to have more typographers. More people trained to use and handle the many scripts this country has to offer. Thats the only way to improve the quality of our multilingual typographic landscape. And not just people trained in design schools because those tend to be centered in English, but from different backgrounds, additionally because not everyone can afford to go to a design school. Also keep in mind that these decisions are not just made by “designers”, even the clients need to be educated that they should expect better designs. Let them know that they can make these demands.

Can you talk us through your process, especially when it comes to logo designing and

brand identity?

I pretty much start anything I am designing by sketching pencil on paper. It helps me clarify ideas very quickly. I love working with imagery negative spaces so this helps me try out variations very quickly. I then look at typefaces best suited for the designs I am making. In terms of voice but also once that might be best suited for the design I have in mind. At this point I have shared sketched ideas with the client and digitise the selected one with a couple of options in typeface. Once something is selected, I then try out colour options. Initially used to be more an English only process. Now I also try and think of at least one other script while doing so. These processes take happen in 3 hours but stretch on to weeks, depending on the time crunch and budgets.

How would you classify typography?

Not entirely sure what you mean by this question. When I teach typography, I talk about classifications based on the evolution of technology of printed text, so you have a trajectory of Gutenberg having come up with movable type, moving on to transitional and modern typefaces and present day digital technologies. But this is a fairly western idea of classification of typography that serves scripts that are written from left to right. For other scripts that behave differently from Latin, eg. Devnagri that connects and has vowel modifiers, Arabic that connects and reads from right to left to name just two, have been treated very unkindly by these printing technologies that have for the longest time been made for the Latin script. So they have a different story to tell, does one classify them separately. Then you have different intended uses which would classify it differently.

So, my answer is - It depends.

Whoʼs your favorite type designer? Is there someone you always looked up to and

studied professionally?

I cannot answer this with just one name. One of the earliest names I knew was Paul Barnes and Christian Shwartz from Commercial typefoundy. I remember getting their autographs on a T-shirt with Dala Floda printed on them when they attended a design conference in India. I am happy to say that their work still holds up. When I was studying at Reading, I got introduced to Zuzana Licko, who co-founded Emigre and drew the most amazing typefaces. Not just in terms of pure drawing but the ideas behind them were so wonderful and new.

Currently I am a big fan of work by the foundry DJR which is run by the eponymous David Jonathan Ross who is making wonderful letterforms month after month with his Font of the month series and also writes about his process really well.

How can emerging type designers improve their typography? What would your advice

be to them?

Just a clarification here. Type Designers make Typefaces. Typographers use them. There can always be an overlap and usually to be a good type designer one needs to have a good understanding of how typefaces are used.

Having said that and before giving “advice” I would also like to add that I still feel like my type design and typographic skills are a work in progress. I always feel there is so much more to improve in everything I make. One of the ways I try and improve this is by making more typographic things. Its as simple and as complicated as that. I try and design for as many different surfaces and materials as I can. As many different scripts as I can. And I try and get feedback, try and find out if people can read it. I think what tends to happen a lot these days is that designers, especially design students tend to design for an audience rather than for a user. It might be a rad layout and the colors might pop, but is it legible? So its helpful to make things for real life use cases, for which you can check and see if your design works. This is what I try and do, and maybe it might help someone else.

What are the challenges that typography faces as a profession in contemporary India?

Multilingual typography needs to be better. Designers need to realized that their audience might not always read English. With more and more users more smaller towns and cities in India getting access to the internet on their mobile devices, you have more digital spaces to design for in Indian scripts. This calls for more typefaces in these Indian scripts, and better technology to typeset them in and better trained professionals to deal with all these scripts.

Do you have an all-time favorite typeface?

Ha! How to pick just one. There are so many thousands out there, with so many different uses. Currently crushing on Atahualpa family by Pampatype. Baloo by EkType is also another one that is available in 11 different scripts and I use it quite liberally because of the fact that such few typefaces allow for such nice multilingual support!


A: Tanya George




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